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Through the Portland STEM Initiative: Supporting, Teaching and Engaging Minds in STEM, Portland State University will be working to improve student persistence and retention in science by addressing the issues of student engagement, interpersonal relationships and collaborations, science identity and math competency. This project will implement four strategies that engage students in problem-based scientific research by: a) changing classroom pedagogy; b) reforming and assessing curricular materials with technology-based guided learning; c) redesigning teaching labs to emphasize project based work; d) and creating pathways to degree completion that build community and lead to successfully diverse graduates. The 1st strategy is based on pedagogical changes in chemistry, biology and physics courses. Complementing POGIL-type classroom instruction techniques, we will be embedding deliberative democracy pedagogy. Deliberative democracy engages students in the practice of discursive decision-making about real-world problems, through structured opportunities for students to critically examine, reflect upon, and engage in collaborative discursive activities on an issue with the intentional purpose to develop consensual decisions based on scientific information and reasoning. Research suggests that deliberative democracy may provide an approach that engages students and improves their science identity.

The 2nd strategy focuses on the mathematics courses critical to student success in science. The four main components of the mathematics reform are: 1) use of a new mandatory assessment - for appropriate placement, 2) flipped classroom instruction, using an Emporium Model, 3) e-tutoring, and 4) development of high impact curricular materials and training. We will build on the initial efforts by a) supporting the assessment of the impact on success in subsequent science and engineering courses, b) supporting faculty to revise programs and materials, c) expanding the number of courses revamped and d) provide professional development for instructors of these courses.

The 3rd strategy is an interdisciplinary approach to an advanced laboratory course, where the chemistry and biology departments will develop, in collaboration with scientists from OHSU, a laboratory that will focus on research projects. This model uses real research to teach students the fundamental skills of science as well as the process of scientific discovery. Each research module is based on and actively linked to the work of a scientist.

Our final strategy focuses on the PSU students that transfer from community colleges. We will pilot the use of a cohort through the junior level general education courses to develop a peer group of STEM students with a stronger connection to the university, while engaging in a socially relevant, problem-based curriculum. This pathway will explicitly include courses that use the deliberative democracy model. The second part of this strategy to recruit and support STEM transfer students will be to offer cyber-PLTL (Peer-Led Team Learning) workshops to community college students. Students enrolled in introductory science courses at the community college will have the option to enroll in a workshop offered at PSU and staffed by PSU peer

The strategies above will be implemented by teams of science faculty and students forming Communities of Practice, with support from education faculty. Through the use of summer workshops and regular meetings during the academic year, course materials and assessment tools will be developed. Assessment tools will be aimed at determining the overall impact on student retention and success, with special attention given to engagement and science identity. This work will be housed in the Center for STEM Teaching and Learning, supported by the new faculty line in discipline based science education research, funded by this HHMI grant, and the center director funded by the Provost's office.

For More Information

Gwendolyn Shusterman, Ph.D.
Portland State University
Department of Chemistry
Science Research and Teaching Center, Room 350 1719 SW 10th Avenue
Portland, OR 97207-0751


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